The Central Corridor and light rail stations - How accessible will the line be?

Plans for Central Corridor won Metropolitan Council approval September 3, putting the project in contention for needed federal funding. Under the best-case scenario construction on the light rail line would start in 2010, with operations starting in 2014. The line will connect downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, and will connect to the Hiawatha light rail line.

Three public hearings were held in August to hear comments on the light rail plans and a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS). One key concern is how accessible trains and light rail stations will be for persons with disabilities. Even though plans for the $892 million project have been submitted to the federal government public comments will continue to be requested and accepted through 2009, according to Laura Baenen, communications manager of the Central Corridor LRT Project. To access the Met Council website, go to www.centralcorridor.org Transportation community advisory committees are held monthly, and anybody can submit questions or comments. The comment line is 651-602 1645; the email is central corridor@metc.mn.us

The concerns for people with disabilities include how accessible the train itself will be to people who use wheelchairs, white canes, service animals and people who have ambulatory difficulties. It’s more then just to safely navigate on and off the cars and around all of the LRT stations. It’s also, just as important getting to and from the LRT stations and bus stops safely. Concerns that people with disabilities might have to climb over mounds of snow at bus stops, that’s a barrier to somebody who uses a wheelchair or has a difficulty with mobility and cannot board the bus at such a location. When asked about access to all parts of a station at all times as well as safe access to and from stations and bus stops, Baenen said that if “at all times means at all times that we can foresee and expect right now, then yes.”

More specific plans need to be done on station and street crossing plans. Currently there’s no mechanism for an audio device, although that is still being studied.

One safety measure will protect private use of user codes. Ticket vending machines will be fitted with a translucent green cover for privacy and safety to obscure the view of anybody who may attempt to watch the use of private codes.

For consistency, Baenen said the ticket vending machines will be in the similar locations at each station. Machines will be ADA compliant and should be accessible for all users. While the design of each station will not be identical, the location of ticket vending machines will be. The station design will benefit not only people with disabilities, but people who are elderly and people who are newcomers to the Twin Cities as well as infrequent LRT users.”

Baenen said transit police will patrol trains like at the Hiawatha stations. Security cameras and accessible emergency phones will be at each station; to satisfy safety and security issues.

Questions center on getting to the stations, many of which will be in the middle of University Avenue. People will have to cross bus lanes to access the LRT stop at a signalized crossing with an audible device.

The risk for everyone is to cross any lanes of traffic at any time of day. I’m aware of only one audible pedestrian signal, at the intersection of Hamp-den and University avenues.

It is always a safety risk for anybody to cross at signal intersections and pedestrian walkways with the concentration of traffic on University ave. Many people with disabilities have been struck by motorists who didn’t see the pedestrian or wasn’t pay attention and violated the law. People on foot have the right of way by law to cross safely at signal intersections and crosswalks. And nobody should be at risk of injury or worse at a signal intersections. People with disabilities and older adults, because of the time limations are at a higher risk attempting to get to the opposite side of the street.

A stretch of the Central Corridor where there are questions about pedestrian safety is the proposed pedestrian mall between Pleasant Avenue, near the covered Washington Avenue Bridge, to Oak Street on the East Bank campus of the University of Minnesota. In the July issue of Making Tracks, a publication of the Metropolitan Council, proposed changes to Washington Avenue were described. University of Minnesota president Robert Bruininks stated, “…Regents for the University of Minnesota have approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on $27 million in traffic mitigation, including $11.1 million for converting Washington Avenue into a transit/pedestrian mall. The MOU also includes $5.1 million for East Bank campus area street connections and funding for modifying some intersections.”

Another question that needs answers is the of loss of on-street parking allowing private motorist access to businesses, on the rail line. University Avenue will lose all but 195 of about 1,000 parking spaces. The City of St. Paul is working with businesses and the Metropolitan Council to resolve the issue.

Information on parking, street crossings and station designs can be found at www.centralcorridor.org or www.metrocouncil.org The City of St. Paul web site provides parking information at www.stpaul.gov/ Look for the link to Central Corridor. U-Plan, a program of the advocacy group University UNITED, has done its own versions of the Central Corridor University Avenue maps. Some users think those maps are clearer and easier to use than the ones provided by Met Council. Find them, by intersection, at www.u-plan.org

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